To truly appreciate “Wagner & Me,” a BBC documentary getting a spotty theatrical release in this country, you have to cherish the music of Richard Wagner with the same quivering intensity as host Stephen Fry. A writer, actor, and beloved British television personality — think Oscar Wilde with the rough edges sanded off — Fry was apparently floored by a recording of “Tannhäuser” as a child; to him, the Ring Cycle and Wagner’s other operas are the alpha and omega of Western Civilization’s artistic expression.
To that end, Fry travels to Bayreuth, in southern Germany, to poke around backstage at the Festspielhaus, visit the composer’s haunts, and generally plotz at being so close to the flame. Descending into the orchestra pit, Fry points out a chair that “has hosted the bottoms of the greatest conductors in the history of music. . . . I feel like a child in a sweet shop.”